ichiren Shōnin is the founder of our order. He was a Buddhist reformer in 13th century Japan, who unveiled the Three Hidden Dharmas and risked his life to propagate the Wonderful Dharma of the Sutra of the Lotus Flower and assert its place as the pinnacle of all teachings.
As Nichiren Shū Buddhists we consider Nichiren Shōnin to be the votary of the Lotus Sutra, an emanation or representative of Bodhisattva Viśiṣṭacāritra, or Jōgyō Bosatsu (上行菩薩). We hold that this is evident through careful examination of both the Lotus Sutra and the life and writings of Nichiren Shōnin.
Nichiren Shōnin was born the son of a fisherman on February 16th, 1222 CE in a small village which would now be considered part of the Chiba Prefecture (千葉県). Nichiren embarked on his Buddhist studies at age 11 when he was sent to the Tendai temple Seichō-ji (清澄寺). Formally ordained at 16, he traveled from temple to temple and dutifully studied practices ranging from Amidism to Zen, Shingon and Vinaya.
Through this diligent study Nichiren arrived at the conclusion that the Lotus Sutra was the highest of all teachings and, furthermore, that it was being neglected by all traditions— even the Tendai school in which he was first ordained. He returned to Seichō-ji (清澄寺) on April 28, 1253 CE where he announced his findings to Dozen-bo, his first mentor and sensei, as well as a gathering of other Buddhist students. This is the first time that chanting the Odaimoku of Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō was taught as the primary practice for attaining Enlightenment and liberating all living beings. We consider this to be the founding date of our order.
Afterward things were never easy for Nichiren. Both the government and the established Buddhist hierarchies resented his efforts to redirect Buddhist practice to align with the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. He was exiled to the Izu Peninsula eight years after his declaration at Seichō-ji. He was pardoned in 1263 CE. He returned to the Awa Province (present-day Chiba Prefecture), only to be ambushed by rogue forces and nearly killed a year later. In 1271 CE he was seized by a group of soldiers that announced they would behead him, only for him to be saved at the final moment because an unexplained light in the night sky terrified the would-be executioners into inaction. This eleventh-hour pardon in turn led to a second exile, to the austere and turbulent Sado Island, where Nichiren Shōnin would spend three years. It was assumed he would perish quickly from the elements, hunger, or both. Yet he won the admiration and devotion of the inhabitants of the isle. There he inscribed the first Mandala Gohonzon, a calligraphic representation of the Ceremony in the Air— the ultimate unveiling of the Wonderful Dharma in the Lotus Sutra. This would be the blueprint for the same Mandala Gohonzon that many of us consecrate and enshrine in our temples and home altars today.
Nichiren Shōnin was pardoned in February of 1274. By this time he had cautioned the presiding government and religious authorities three times, and three times his warnings of the consequences of ignoring the teaching of the Lotus Sutra went unheeded. He was exiled, nearly assassinated, and his followers had been killed. Nichiren retired to Mount Minobu, following the ancient Chinese tradition that a wise man— having warned his leaders three times of impending disaster— should abandon his nation after being ignored the third time.
Nichiren Shōnin and his disciples erected the Kuon-ji (久遠寺) Temple at Mount Minobu, our head temple to this day. There Nichiren continued lecturing and writing letters to his growing number of followers until his health began to fail in 1282 CE. He left Minobu in September of 1282, embarking on a journey to seek the healing properties of a hot spring in Hitachi. He would not survive the trip. On October 8, 1282 CE Nichiren Shōnin died at the home of a lay believer, surrounded by his six senior disciples and many followers.
In accordance with his wishes, Nichiren’s ashes were taken to Minobusan Kuon-ji, where they remain entombed today.